It happens everyday, kids lying to their teachers, friends, babysitters, and yes, even you. It could be to cover a mistake, to get someone else in trouble, or just to pass the time. It isn't all that uncommon. In fact, it's to be expected. But, does this make it all acceptable somehow? Shouldn't parents be concerned that their children are learning to break trust and discard moral values? On the other hand though, they are only kids, and the lies they tell seem so small and insignificant.
It can be a difficult call to make when your little one flat out fibs to your face. Do you punish him/er? Should you let it slide? Are there really any small "stories", or is every infraction of the truth a major deal? These kinds of question can often lead to frustration and inconsistencies in parenting, which then can lead to a loss of respect from your child, and ultimately... one very disobedient youngster. But, before you panic with indecision, let's try to get our heads around why kids lie.
fiction vs. reality
It may sound like a load of psycho-babble, but sometimes children just can't get their head out of the clouds. Many kids, when faced with a question like "what happened?", or "who did that?" don't understand that what you are looking for is reality. In fact, until they are at least 3, science has shown us that their brains aren't even equipped to understand such intangible and philosophical concepts. In other words, they are actually physically incapable of grasping the idea of 'truth'. So, when you ask direct questions, like the examples above, they simply respond with whatever they can come up with at the time. For particularly sharp children, they may be aware that they are speaking of an unrealistic event, a fantasy, if you will. While other kids don't really even differentiate. They don't think it's real. They don't thinl it isn't. It's just their answer.
To be more specific, it isn't that they truly believe that a dragon messed up their room, but more like they don't see why that isn't a good answer. After all, It meets their standards. It's funny. It's imaginative. And, it keeps them from being responsible.
Filling in the blanks
Probably the most common reason for a child to spin tales is plain old forgetfulness. We see this even in adults. Sometimes, when you just aren't sure what happened, you fill in the blanks with what you think might be true. Also, on occasion, we may knowingly invent something or 'pin' a misdeed on someone else just to be exonerated. It happens a good deal more than you think. If your kids and their friends were playing last week, and somehow crayon got on the wall, odds are your child is going to point the finger elsewhere. Don't try to pretend you've never done it.
Much like many adults, unfortunately, children don't respond well to feelings of guilt. Rather than embrace the feeling and try to correct the wrongdoing, they will often paint stories that resemble what they wish would have happened. This doesn't make it so, but it allows them to play a mental trick on themselves that can alleviate their shame and help them avoid further embarrassment by owning up and apologizing. Obviously, this isn't the best course of action, but it rewards them with the instant relief they were seeking.
So, knowing this, it may now be easier to know just how to react when your child tells a lie. Let's go over a few possible responses together.
Know your goals and pick your battles.
While children may be extremely accustomed to fibbing, that doesn't necessarily make them good at it. It is often painfully obvious to parents exactly what happened, who is responsible, and which party needs to apologize/make it right. So, why interrogate the child? If your only goal is to get him/her to fess up, you should reconsider your motives. It is important to teach your child how to accept responsibility, but verbally pounding a confession out of him/her is only going to teach them to be afraid of getting caught and to try and avoid this at all cost. Instead, try circumventing the whole 'flashlight in the eyes, where were you on the night of - fill in the blank - routine'. Call your child on what you know to be true and talk with them about why it isn't right, and how to make things right. Doing this will not only encourage them to just be honest with you from the start, but it also starts them on the road to learning how to apologize and forgive. This method removes the fear from the situation, and replaces it with understanding and trust.
Praise makes perfect.
Ok, so you probably can't eliminate negative reinforcement from your day entirely, but the praise vs. criticism method has it's value. When you reward your child for telling the truth with a smile and a 'thank you, sweety' you are giving him/her a reason to continue being honest. And while you may think that scolding can have the same effect, it actually tends to generate the opposite result. Most parents will agree that the more you tell your child 'no', the less they pay attention. The theory here is that children will try to repeat behavior that rewards them with positive attention, tune out all that which is negative or otherwise inhibiting of their free will. It is only in the absence of positive feedback that children begin to settle for, and even seek out negative attention.
Be aware of your surroundings.
As much as you hate being embarrassed by your wound up tyke at the office, playground, or pta meeting, he/she hates feeling shamed by you in front of his/her peers. There are times when immediate scolding is necessary, regardless of where you are. But this isn't the case all of the time. Whenever you can, try to address the situation privately, away from both family and friends. Not only will you feel like less of a bad guy, but your child will be appreciative to. Remember, little talks and punishments aren't about humiliation, they are about growing up and learning.
This blog post was provided by Stephanie Parker - our blog writer extraordinaire!